Beck’s hair is longer than his new album.
An interesting phenomenon seems to be occurring among the bands the National Evil cares about: the drastic reduction of album lengths to a lean half hour. He wonders if any of you, dear readers, have noticed this happening to your record collections.
This really kicked off with Everything All the Time by Band of Horses, though that probably shouldn’t count because it was their first album. For all the Evil knew, BOH might just not have had any more good music in them. (Their second album was just as short and equally good.)
Then Spoon released Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Evil dutifully picked up the disc, slipped it into his car stereo, and had almost finished the album by the time he got to work the next morning. When he realized it was only 30 minutes long, he was taken aback. Confused. A muddle of emotions. On the one hand, the album was really good—near great—and its length (or lack of) made the Evil want to immediately start it over at track 1.
On the other hand—hey, they could have fit the entire album on the same CD again. Had Spoon just ripped the Evil off?
A decade-plus of the CD had accustomed the Evil to slogging through bloated, hour-long albums produced by bands that really shouldn’t ever have been inflicting that much music on the listener all at once. 45 minutes seems to be about the upper limit for all but the greatest albums; unless you’re a chunky metal band churning out 8-minute epics, you probably don’t have the quantity of good songs to spew an hour or more of album at the world every two years. He remembers the period in the mid-90s when it seemed every band was straining the waistband of their musical slacks. Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside. Any Tool album. And of course the most bloated monstrosity of all, the dreaded double album: Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and I’m Not Going To Write The Rest of This Long-Ass Album Title. TWO hour-plus CDs, for shame.
History shows again and again that the double album is almost always a mistake. That error is exacerbated with the 70-minute possibilities of a single CD. London Calling fits on one CD, people. You do NOT have 150 minutes of brilliance on hand at any given recording session. (That includes you, too, any hip-hop artist of the last ten years.)
Even R.E.M. fell victim to the Bloat. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is the most underrated album they ever made, but still . . . it’s 65 minutes. Or about four songs too long. This from a band that perfected art in the guise of the tight, three-minute pop song.
Fortunately, after a 12-year break from relevance, R.E.M. released the 30ish-minute Accelerate this year. This just after Super Furry Animals dropped Hey Venus! (love that term: “dropped”), which barely squeaks over the half-hour mark. By this time the Evil had become accustomed to this new order, convinced himself he wasn’t being robbed by the bands he loves, and—most importantly—decided this length-of-album reduction wasn’t the product of floundering creative drive, but a recognition that filling a CD doesn’t equal making the best possible album. Besides, we’ve all got shorter attention spans these days—seriously, are you still even reading this?
Evil has officially endorsed the concept of the half-hour album with the release of Modern Guilt by Beck. It’s good. And it doesn’t feature an ungodly, ten-and-a-half minute train wreck of the kind that ruined the end of The Information.
So. Have you noticed the musical anorexia? How does it make you feel?